The keyboard whizz on his solo and ARW albums, Yes, covering Bo Rhap… and the state of his bowels.
The keyboard whizz on his solo and ARW albums, Yes, covering Bohemian Rhapsody… and the state of his bowels.
Rick Wakeman is a very busy man. In July he jetted off to South America for shows in Santiago and Buenos Aires, a full orchestra in tow. He’s just released his album Piano Odyssey, featuring reworkings of material from his solo career along with Yes songs and covers of songs by The Beatles, David Bowie and Queen. In September there’s a live album from Yes featuring ARW and available in a variety of formats. And then he starts a tour of his own, traversing the nation to play tracks from the solo record.
Meanwhile, he’s continuing his second career as a somewhat offbeat Twitter celebrity, delighting the internet with details of his intestinal movements and sharing updates about his cats,
George and Harry.
Classic Rock caught up with the maestro as he packed for yet another flight.
Why did you decide to release a sequel to Piano Portraits? Invariably, when someone does another album like this, it never works. And sometimes follow-up versions diminish the first. It’s tricky, but I did enjoy doing the first one, and I looked at some of the pieces I hadn’t done because they didn’t stand up enough on the piano. It all started with Bohemian Rhapsody.
You got Brian May involved.
I know Brian hasn’t been overwhelmed by some of the versions other people have done – that’s putting it mildly! I decided I needed a really nice string section, and a choir. And it worked better than I ever could have dreamed. But I was worried – to put it bluntly – because I know what it means to Queen and to Queen fans. But Brian loved it, and said Freddie would have adored it, and his blessing meant a lot to me. I’d turned the big guitar section into a Viennese waltz, he added a half-classical, half-flamenco acoustic guitar section, and it has to be the cameo performance of my career. It’s fantastic!
Why did Yes featuring ARW decide to release a live album? With camera phones, everything is filmed. There’s so much crap on YouTube – the sound’s bad, it looks bad. So we thought it was important just to make a record of what we were doing, something done with great sound and good visuals. It’s a record of part of the short history of ARW.
How’s the new ARW music going?
Slowly. There’s a six-thousand-mile gap between me and Trevor [Rabin] and Jon [Anderson], and a thousand miles between Trevor and Jon, so we record bits and pieces and send them backwards and forwards. I don’t think there’s a cry for whole new albums any more, but if we could do a box set that mixes old stuff with new stuff and unreleased material and interviews, on DVD, that would be a good way to go. When you get to our age, what you’re really looking at doing is making a statement about how you’ve got to where you are.
What about the Steven Wilson-mixed box set of Yes albums? These are things that are done by the record company, and certainly without consultation. They’re fine, and Wilson is a bright boy, but the record company don’t even send you a copy. They basically say go out and buy it if you want it.
You played at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles with ARW to celebrate fifty years since Yes played there.
We thought it’d be fun to charge the same price as we did when we first played: two dollars, no advance sales, just queue up to get in. There’s hardly any room, but it’s important to have fun. It’s nice to get rid of the organisation and cause a bit of chaos.
Is it odd to find yourself in a situation where you’ve got two different versions of Yes celebrating the same anniversary in different ways?
I think it’s ridiculous. I’ve got no qualms about Steve [Howe] and his band. They do whatever Steve wants, and that’s fine. But I don’t look at what they’re doing because – in the nicest sense – it’s of no interest to me whatsoever. I think the whole situation is absolutely preposterous. I’ve always said all along that I didn’t want to use the name. I felt very strongly that as ARW we were creating a brand that was Yes music but we were moving along to ARW music.
Is there a sense that, like classical music, the important thing is that Yes’s music is being performed, and not necessarily who’s performing it?
[Long pause] That’s an interesting one. Perhaps when you get to our age we’re all tribute bands. Basically, I think the important thing is that whoever the band is, they should be performing the music in the highest possible manner, to represent what the music and the band originally stood for, and I think we’re doing that.
For our readers who don’t follow you on Twitter, how are your bowels at the moment?
Fantastic! I have a great love of green vegetables and making vegetable soups, and they do have the advantage of going through you like a Ferrari. Twitter is hilarious, and very occasionally I write serious things, and I like to think they’re noticed because the rest of it is pure and utter stupidity.
In early 2017 you told Classic Rock you thought Donald Trump would make a decent president if he surrounded himself with the right people. How do you feel eighteen months later?
He’s divided opinions like there’s no tomorrow, but he’s gone out and done things that no one thought was humanly possible.
One minute he’s saying dreadful things about the North Korean leader, the next they’re arm-in-arm, and that’s something previous presidents and world leaders have failed to do. His methods might be very unpresidential, but you have to say that in some ways he’s getting results. It’s hilarious! I’d love to meet him.
Piano Odyssey is out now via Sony Classical. Live At The Apollo is released on September 7 via Universal. Rick Wakeman tours the U K from late September.